Ceremony at Southwestern College
There are probably many orientations to “Ceremony”, and I am going to talk about two of them here: “Ceremonialist-Based Ceremony”, and “Consciousness-Based Ceremony.” These are terms I have made up, as they make sense to me. You may find other terms that make more sense for you. I am writing this perhaps as much for me as anybody else, to get my own bearings on practices that happen all around me on a frequent basis.
In Ceremonialist-Based Ceremony the Ceremonialist is central and necessary. This ordinarily involves a position that a specific lineage and some detailed, prescribed, symbolic activities and/or sequences are critical to the Ceremony and its successful outcome. The Ceremonialist is understood to have direct connections to the origins of the Ceremony, and for legitimacy, should have gone through some kind of initiation into that lineage’s performance of the Ceremony. The Ceremonialist thus becomes the bridge between the congregation and the Spirit World, or the gods, or whatever powers are being addressed or invoked. Deviation from, or adornments to, the Ceremony are understood to render the Ceremony powerless, or at least much less powerful than if followed precisely as the lineage has passed it down to the present day.
The Ceremonialist is deemed to be agentic in Ceremonialist-Based Ceremony. Specific objects or substances are understood to hold specific meanings or powers. As well, certain places are held to be especially holy, or to be vortices of great importance and power. They are often central to the Ceremony.
Another orientation to Ceremony comes from an understanding that Ceremony is taking place all the time in the natural and interpersonal world, usually outside our ordinary, immediate, conscious awareness. Sunrises and sets, tides, seasons, moon phases, the activities of birds, the intuitions and knowings of dogs and cats, the magic of your garden, the exquisite and infinitely varied dances between people, and so on.
Ceremony in this orientation, or from this perspective, is a natural state of the natural world, of life. What makes these patterns and processes ceremonial rather than mundane is our intentional consciousness of them, and our becoming aligned with, one with them, through an act of attending, mindfulness, being there now.
Our honoring nature’s and life’s “it-ness” or “such-ness”, its vitality and inherent beauty and dance, transforms these natural occurrences into Ceremony, or, more accurately, transforms our ability and willingness to recognize and receive the Ceremony inherent in these endlessly ongoing offerings from the universe.
No Ceremonialist is needed. A guide might be helpful, but he or she holds no position of hierarchy. Whether the Ceremony is ancient, or made up in the spur of the moment in response to an offering from the universe is of no particular importance. Focusing of Consciousness on the phenomenon is what unveils/creates/awakens its Ceremonial possibilities.
In Consciousness-Based Ceremony, the whole universe and all of its components are understood to be part and parcel of one great unity and divinity. Thus, all places and substances hold equal potential to awaken the awe, wonder, connectedness, and consciousness that live within all of us.
From a Ceremonialist-Based perspective, Ammaji (the “Hugging Saint”) transfers something from herself, through herself, to the devotee or person she is hugging. She is agentic, and the source (at least the immediate, or local source) of the transformation.
From the perspective of Consciousness-Based Ceremony, Ammaji’s hug awakens in the other person a sense of connectedness, awe, and love that was already, and always, within the person, however dormant and unrecognized it might have been previously.
I welcome any perspectives, comments, thoughts, additions, light bulbs, epiphanies or other offerings from you all. This all came to me today as I walked the Gulf Coast shore, watching the ineffably and wildly amazing orchestrations, waltzes and lindy-hops of the pelicans, sandpipers, ibises, egrets, ospreys, dolphins and shellers on this amazing coast…Ceremony all day, every day…